The image of Qutubuddin Ansari is seared into my memory of one of the darkest days in India’s history. Mr. Ansari’s pleading to be spared from the vicious mobs is a reminder of the injustice that continues after the month-long outbreak of violence that resulted in the killing of at least 2,000 women, men and children, mostly Muslims, and the rape of significant numbers of women and girls, in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
The photographer, Arko Datta of Reuters, remembered that moment: “There were youths armed with swords, knifes and spears from Hindu neighborhoods crossing over, setting fire to Muslim homes and shops. I just looked back at for a moment and saw him standing in the first floor of a building, just a few hundred feet away from me. He was pleading, pleading for help.” Ten years after the riots, the families of the murdered victims, the victims of the rape and sexual violence and the 21,000 people still in “relief camps” still plead for justice.
The violence by extremist Hindu mobs commenced after 59 Hindu activists, returning from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh (itself the scene of another dark chapter in India’s history), were killed in a fire on the Sabarmati Express train set by a Muslim mob at Godhra on February 27, 2002.
The fact that more than 2,000 people can be murdered and the lives of thousands of others shattered in Gujarat with only a small number of the perpetrators brought to justice is offensive to any notion of justice.
Sexual violence was perpetrated against large numbers of women and girls. Gujarat’s response to victims of gender-based violence has been shoddy at best. The authorities should challenge the stigma and stereotyping affecting women and girl survivors of rape. These women and girls, and the family members of those killed, should be provided with full reparation: rehabilitation, restitution, and compensation.
At least 21,000 persons are still in 19 transit relief camps awaiting relocation, but the state authorities were now claiming that the land on which the camps were set up belonged to the government and that they would have to vacate the camps, putting them under risk of forced evictions. The government must not evict people living in the camps and must provide adequate compensation to those whose property was destroyed.
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